Research and innovation have been part of the Mayo Aerospace Medicine culture since its inception in the 1930s. Mayo Clinic physiologists and altitude scientists developed several items vital to military pilot safety in the World War II era. Prior to pressurized aircraft cabins for commercial airline passenger flights, aircraft flew at relatively low altitudes to avoid hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions. Mayo scientists developed an oxygen mask for pilots and passengers to wear during flights, allowing travel at higher altitudes above turbulent weather conditions, making flights smoother and more tolerable to travelers.
Today, Mayo physicians and researchers are investigating new oxygen delivery systems to be installed in aircraft being developed by major manufacturers. Devices for specialized pilot training, including that for hypoxia awareness, have been developed and are being utilized at major training facilities throughout the nation. Studies focused on human adaptation at high altitudes and remote locations are also being conducted to mitigate the effects of altitude sickness experienced by individuals visiting destinations at high altitude, and to allow safe air travel at altitudes greater than 40,000 feet (12,100 meters), referred to as "thin air" flights.
With the introduction of a state-of-the-art hyperbaric and altitude chamber facility on the Rochester, Minn., campus, Mayo aerospace researchers are advancing various projects applicable to high-altitude aviation as well as programs for space travel.